Finding inspiration in Dutch and Danish design

BEIRUT: Think Scandinavian design and the first thing to come to mind may well be IKEA. Beirut Design Week is exploring the realm beyond flat-pack furniture – and housing – in its Danish Architecture Exhibition and Dutch Design Exhibition, a duo of shows up at the jewelry section of the Beirut Souks until June 15.

The fruits of collaboration between event organizers and the respective embassies, the two exhibitions are listed as the main draws of the weeklong design showcase, along with the Newcomers Exhibition up in Saifi Village.

The Dutch exhibition, entitled “NE+AR: The Netherlands Meets the Arabic World,” features the work of six design firms, setting out to showcase a broad spectrum of work in various arenas.

Dutch Ambassador to Lebanon Hester Somsen told The Daily Star that she saw many parallels between contemporary design in the Netherlands and Lebanon.

“I think if you look at the words that are [used to] capture Dutch design,” she said, “it’s mainly described as minimalist and experimental and innovative and quirky and humorous, but it’s also described as outside the box and bending the rules, less-is-more and pragmatic, simple and powerful, and I think many of those words also apply to Lebanese and to Lebanon.

“When it comes to having a good sense of humor, thinking outside the box and bending the rules, it’s something that is really very present here. ... In the exhibition there are a lot of innovative appliances of technology, and that is also something you see here in Lebanon.”

Somsen added that the embassy aimed to highlight the breadth of Dutch work by showcasing product design, typography and socially and environmentally driven projects and hoped that the exhibition would enable Lebanese visitors “to see how powerful the combination between technology and the creative sector can be.”

She drew attention to the work of Angela Jansen, who employs cutting-edge LED and electromagnetic technology to create dimmable, levitating lamps, the top section of which hovers a few inches from the base, seemingly by magic.

Also noteworthy is a chair by Studio Mieke Meijer, made of their innovative Newspaperwood. A durable, versatile material made of old newspapers, Lebanese viewers may find the medium – in which a faint strata of colored lines betrays its papery origins – reminds them of local environmentalist Ziad Abichaker’s Ecoboards, made from recycled industrial waste.

Further local links are found in Niels Bakkerus’ playful, graffiti-style pieces of typography. Some combine calligraphic text with imagery, while others showcase Bakkerus’ specialty: script that can be read upside down.

The designer has created an example of this technique, known as an ambigram, using the word “Beirut.” Rendered in a bold, gothic-looking font, the ornamental curlicues lend the letters versatility, allowing them to be read differently when inverted 180 degrees. A second work created for the exhibition is a portrait of Lebanese darling Fairuz, in which the letters of her name form the contours of her face.

Around the corner, a second gallery space is showcasing work by the best and brightest Danish architects. Twenty-one examples of contemporary, sustainable architectural design are divided into five categories: housing, commercial and industrial, health and learning, culture and urban development.

Large visual spreads of colorful photographs are supplemented by a short text providing details of each project, including the name of the architect, the location of the building and the year it was completed. A lack of models, blueprints or other objects means the exhibition resembles a series of blown-up pages from a color brochure – a version of which can in fact be downloaded from the Beirut Design Week website.

Director Doreen Toutikian explained that highlighting minimalist, sustainable and functional architectural projects was crucial in the context of Lebanon.

“In Beirut now, we have so much construction going on, and this new style of futuristic buildings is definitely showing up.” she said. “But I think it’s always important in this dialogue to pinpoint the sustainability part and the whole conscious way of dealing with architecture. It’s not just about the pretty facade, but it’s also about what this means to a community, to urban lives, to mobility.”

Dutch Design Exhibition and Danish Architecture Exhibition continue at the jewelry section of the Beirut Souks until June 15. For more information, please visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2014, on page 2.




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